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South Africa Freedom Day

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Today marks the 19th anniversary of South Africa’s first multiracial, democratic elections, known to South Africans as Freedom Day.  This is a day of great significance in South Africa’s history as “a landmark in the inauguration of a non-racial democracy” after a long history of colonialism, segregation  and Apartheid.

Much has been written about Apartheid rule and the dramatic process in the late 80s and early 90s that led to its demise.  So to commemorate this day, here at the Law Library, we thought we would highlight some of the key documents, agreements and legislative reforms in the early 90s that led to the 1994 elections.

Nelson Mandela casting the ballot in his country’s first all-race elections (United Nations Photo)

A notable document in this regard is the African National Congress (ANC) Harare Declaration of 1989.  This document, along with a letter Nelson Mandela wrote from prison in 1988 proposing peaceful negotiations, was said to have provided an impetus for negotiations with the South African government that ended Apartheid.  In it the ANC indicated its interest to negotiate with South African government (National Party (NP)) and outlined some preconditions that needed to be met before negotiations could commence (Frost, 1996 at 22):

the present regime should, at the very least:

  • Release all political prisoners and detainees unconditionally and refrain from imposing any restrictions on them.
  • Lift all bans and restrictions on all proscribed and restricted organisations and people.
  • Remove all troops from the townships.
  • End the state of emergency and repeal all legislation, such as, and including, the Internal Security Act, designed to circumscribe political activity.
  • Cease all political executions.

Soon after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990 and the lifting of the ban on the ANC and other organizations, bilateral negotiations between the government and the ANC known as ‘talks about talks’ commenced.  These talks progressed over a two year period and set the stage for further, multiparty negotiations.  This phase of the negotiations addressed subjects including the issue of disarmament of the movements and amnesty for guerrilla as well as South Africa Defense Forces members that participated in criminal acts.  Among the key documents that came out of these talks were:

  •  Groote Schuur Minute (May 2, 1990) — Among other things, this document established a working group to look into the release of political prisoners and the granting of immunity for political crimes.  The government of South Africa agreed to review security legislation and to work towards lifting the state of emergency.
  • Pretoria Minute (August 6, 1990) — One of the key items included in this document dealt with the repeal of certain problem provisions the Internal Security Act including those on prohibition on the publication of statements or writings of certain persons and provisions that impeded the process for registering newspapers.
  • D. F. Malan Accord (February 12, 1991) –  An item in this document clearly defined ANC’s commitment to end armed action to include ending “[a]ttacks by means of armaments, firearms, explosive or incendiary devices; infiltration of men and material; creation of underground structures; statements inciting violence; threats of armed action; and training inside South Africa.”  Also included in this document was a commitment by the South African government to maintain the right to peaceful demonstration.
  • National Peace Accord (September 21, 1991) – This was the first multiparty agreement to be signed and, among other things, is said to have “created the first institutionalized peacekeeping and peacemaking instrument for South Africa.”

These agreements served as a stepping stone for the multiparty negotiations that followed over the next two years that put in place the necessary mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of power from the white minority to the majority.  (International Republican Institute, 1994 at 10)  One of the most notable achievements of this process was a complete overhaul of Apartheid era election laws and institutions.  The reform produced the following laws and institutions, which ensured free and fair elections:

  • The Interim Constitution (No. 200 of 1993)  This document, which took effect on April 27, 1994, included a  guaranteed universal franchise and provided a chapter on fundamental rights such as equality before the law and equal protection under the law, the right to freedom and security of the person, freedom of speech and expression, as well as freedom of  assembly, demonstration and petition.
  •  Transitional Executive Council Act (No. 151 of 1993) This Act established the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) whose objectives included elimination of impediments to legitimate political activities and promotion of conditions for holding free and fair elections.  Each organization that participated in the multiparty negotiations could appoint a representative in the TEC.  The TEC had various sub-councils including ones on Law and Order, Stability and Security as well as The Status of Women.  All government institutions were under legal obligation to provide copies of any proposed legislation that had a bearing on any of TEC’s objectives.
  •  Electoral Act (No. 202 of 1993) and Independent Electoral Commission Act (IECA) (No. 150 of 1993)  The Electoral Act put in place a legal regime for conducting free and fair elections for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.  The IECA established an Independent Electoral Commission, an independent body with the responsibility, among others, to organize and conduct elections, to conduct voter education, and to determine election results.
  • Independent Media Commission Act (No. 148 of 1993) This established another independent body, the Independent Media Commission with two primary objectives: ensuring equitable treatment of political parties by media outlets; and ensuring that state owned information services are not used to advance interests of any political party.
  • Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (No. 153 of 1993) This established yet another independent body, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, whose mandate included promoting a diverse range of programming that are informative and educational and cater to all language and cultural groups.  It was also required to promote broadcasting services responsive to public needs using its licensing powers.

The first post Apartheid elections for National Assembly as well as provincial legislatures were held between April 26-29, 1994 within the above described framework and 19 political parties participated.  The ANC won handsomely in that it garnered 62.6% of the votes and 252 of the 400 National Assembly seats.  On May 9, 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president by the National Assembly as mandated by the Interim Constitution.  The rest is history.

For those of you interested in exploring more of this period of South Africa’s history, following are some of the materials held in the Library of Congress that you may find useful:

Comments (2)

  1. free Nelson Mandela, First black president

  2. Respected Sir. President!

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